Goddess, Princess, Whore
A major new book about the life and legend of the world's 'most beautiful woman' - by the new star of TV history
As soon as men began to write, they made Helen of Troy their subject; for close on three thousand years she has been both the embodiment of absolute female beauty and a reminder of the terrible power that beauty can wield. Because of her double marriage to the Greek King Menelaus and the Trojan Prince Paris, Helen was held responsible for an enduring enmity between East and West. For millennia she has been viewed as an exquisite agent of extermination. But who was she?
Helen exists in many guises: a matriarch from the Age of Heroes who ruled over one of the most fertile areas of the Mycenaean world; Helen of Sparta, the focus of a cult which conflated Helen the heroine with a pre-Greek fertility goddess; the home-wrecker of the Iliad; the bitch-whore of Greek tragedy; the pin-up of Romantic artists.
Focusing on the 'real' Helen - a flesh-and-blood aristocrat from the Greek Bronze Age - acclaimed historian Bettany Hughes reconstructs the context of life for this elusive pre-historic princess. Through the eyes of a young Mycenaean woman, Hughes examines the physical, historical and cultural traces that Helen has left on locations in Greece, North Africa and Asia Minor. Vivid and compelling, this remarkable book brilliantly unpacks the facts and myths surrounding one of the most enigmatic and notorious figures of all time.
“The book triumphantly reclaims Helen from some of her traducers. Hughes' portrait is as close to a real, living Helen as we are likely to get.”
“This book puts Helen of Troy at the centre of a world in which, as Bettany Hughes convincingly explains, the primordial power was female”
Geraldine Bedell, Observer
“I hope that many readers buy this book...When Helen launched her "thousand ships" was she a "shameless hussy"?...Or, like her mother, was she a rape victim?...The answers have always depended on who you speak to and when. Hughes has them all.”
“Hughes skilfully brings this period back to life. A fascinating window on to the power politics of an age...a genuinely exciting historical narrative.”
“Hughes's speculations are spectacular... Hughes's golden girl, sandals slapping through Mycenean wine-cellar, is a stronger construct than any Helen I have met before.”
Vera Rule, Independent on Sunday
“This book is a real tour de force. It combines astonishing erudition and knowledge of the early classical world with a wonderful easy fluency of writing. It has taught me a lot, and I have enjoyed every page.”
John Julius Norwich
“The most fascinating of subjects, handled with style, learning and a wide engagement with the evidence and its many different landscapes. Bettany Hughes is an author whom everyone will enjoy and she has brought her exceptional talents to bear on the possibilities and impact of the most famous heroine in history.”
Robin Lane Fox, New College, Oxford
“Passionate and eccentric”
Tom Holland, The Sunday Times
“Full of fascinating detail”